Work Report

I’m still being ignored, pretty much, at work this week. But there is a reason, at least. I came the wrong time of year.

First, no one was here because they had all gone on holiday. Then, this week, everyone is here, but they all had annual proposals for telescope time due at noon today (Friday). No one wanted to waste time talking to me. And, of course, the announcement that I was here, which was suppose to go out to the entire staff, had not gone out, so no one really knows I am here, except the folks who come to the 11:00 coffee. One thing and another, basically.

But I haven’t been complaining. In fact, I’ve been using the time to good purpose. I found the library at ESO on my own and introduced myself to the librarian. Turns out, she had ordered a couple of my books, so knew me. It is a very nice technical library, a good place to work away from my desk, which is playing havoc with my back. Something about the table height and the chair adjustments that I just can’t seem to get right.

I had asked my office mate for a recommendation for a good general purpose astronomy text. I just wanted to learn some of the vocabulary. She pointed me to Jay Pasachoff’s textbook Astronomy: From the Earth to the Universe. This may be one of the finest science books I have ever read. I can’t put it down. It is the first time ever I’ve ever understood right ascension and declination, and even sideral time. If you can’t get excited about astronomy reading this book something is wrong. The pictures alone are fabulous. This book is seriously cutting into my time with John le Carré.

So, I’m doing what I came to do, I’m learning something new. I just hope I get to contribute something to ESO in my particular area of expertise soon.

ET the Extra-Terrestrial Local Shopkeeper I’ve been so into astronomy and interstellar space recently, even the shop clerks are starting to look like ET to me. If it keeps up, I might have to check into the krankenhaus. (Isn’t that a lovely name for a hospital?)

Vocabulary Building

I try to work at least an hour or so every day on my German. But listening to the tapes on the walk back and forth to the Institute isn’t working out as well as I hoped, mostly because it is a lot of gear to carry back and forth. By the time I find the CD player, I’ve lost my glasses again, and by the time I’ve found them, the earphones have walked off. If I get out the door with my keys in my pocket it’s a miracle. I’ve switched now to the German word flash cards Brain gave me for my birthday just before I left Colorado.

The flash cards come in a box about four inches wide and maybe a foot long. There are a thousand cards. I packed them at the every bottom of my big backpack and it caused me a problem at the airport. Apparently, the shape matched a profile for plastique explosive, because my bag got flagged for a hand inspection, which I had to wait around for. Getting the stuff out of my bag wasn’t a problem, but getting it all back in was a problem. (Well, yeah, it took me three hours to pack it!) As a result, I ended up missing my plane and had to take a later one, which still got me to Germany on time, thank goodness.

I put a handful of cards in my pocket when I leave the apartment in the morning, and work on them on my way to and from the Institute. The other day I laughed out loud when I found out the word for stairs is die Treppe, which I mispronounced, of course, as die Trip. I guess so!

I’m getting a little more confident about going up and down these stairs to my loft, but I still treat them with great respect and PAY ATTENTION when I travel them. But what I’ve noticed from discretely looking into people’s open windows as I pass, is that steep stairs are the norm in Germany. And it stands to reason, I guess. Houses are a lot smaller in Germany than they are in the US. I would say people, in general, have about half as much space as we do. So no one wants to waste premium real estate for a set of leisurely stairs. They want them in as small a space as possible.

But I wouldn’t make it as a parent if I had to watch my children learn to negotiate stairs like this. I saw lots of tumbles when my kids were growing up, but on carpeted stairs where the damage was minimized. A fall on these, and you would be picking up pieces, I think.

A cross in the neighborhood Roadside Markers I find this kind of thing in the neighborhoods as I walk along. I don’t know the whole story behind it, but my theory is that these are markers for those people who die on apartment stairs, in just the sort of way we mark the sites of people who die in automobile accidents. Alcohol has been documented to be a factor in 80% of both kinds of accidents.

A Cadre of Careful Readers

I’m happy to report a couple of people are reading my foreign dispatches, anyway. And they are reading them carefully.

In an article the other day I mentioned, in passing, a couple of birds I had seen on one of my walks. From my cursory description, an alert reader wrote in to tell me he was certain these were “great tits.”


Oh, right, nuthatches and such. Yes, I believe you may be right. The reader even sent pictures of different kinds of, uh, tits. Sure enough, this is the bird I was looking at. Another, German reader wrote me to identify it specifically as a Meise titmouse.

A picture of one of the “great tits.” One of the Great Tits This is the bird I have been seeing around here. An alert reader has identified it as a Meise titmouse. I can’t wait to go birding again. My e-mail is a delight!

Faulty Dictionary

On my way to and from work I often pass the King Ludwig II Hotel. This was where I was originally suppose to stay in Garching, until an apartment opened up at the last minute. It looks like a charming little place, and I’ve been noticing a sign out front advertising Frühstück, or breakfast.

I’ve been bewildered by the number and types of sausages in Germany, and a little intimidated, to tell you the truth, to order something from a butcher shop, or even the deli-counter at the store. I don’t know whether the sausages should be cooked, or eaten raw, or even--really--the difference between a bratwurst and a liverwurst. The only thing I know for sure, given my track record, is there is an excellent chance I’m going to get it wrong. I thought maybe a well laid out breakfast spread would allay my fears and perhaps educate me on the lay of the sausage land, as it were.

So today I took my dictionary to the Hotel to identify the words on the rest of the sign, see if there was something there I might want to know before I marched in and made a fool of myself. The sign reads “Sie bei uns gemütlich und entspannt.” I thought I had seen gemütlich before, although I couldn’t remember what it meant, but entspannt was new to me. Oh yes, of course, gemütlich means cozy. So, “In a cozy something, something atmosphere,” that kind of thing. Let’s see, entspannt. Humm. My dictionary defines it as tense. Can that be right? In a cozy and tense atmosphere. Well, it would be, if I were ordering sausages, wouldn’t it?

Somehow, as strange as Germany is to me, I don’t think that is right.

So, it must be my dictionary. And now I see where all my troubles lay. This dictionary is broken! No wonder I can’t pronounce anything correctly. Probably all the pronunciation tables are wrong, too. This explains so much!

Breakfast sign at the Hotel King Ludwig II Breakfast Sign The Hotel King Ludwig II caters to American expatriates nervous about ordering sausages, providing a cozy and tense place for them to dine. I’m going to the Oktoberfest tomorrow, but I might have to check this out for Sunday breakfast.

Bonus Mystery Picture

Since alert readers are doing all the identifying for me, here is something I need identified. There is a whole field of this stuff on my walk home from the Institute. What in the world is it? I’m guessing hops, just from where I happen to be living at the moment, but I would love to know. A maß of Germany’s finest for the lucky winner who can identify this crop.

Identify the mystery crop Mystery Crop Please help identify this crop. The lucky winner will be taken to the Löwenbräukeller in downtown München for a maß of Germany’s finest. (Airfare not included and no one under 18 is eligible for prizes.)

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